Friday, November 23, 2007

November 22, 1963:

John Kennedy Dies

Only two presidents died in their 40s, both of unnatural causes. John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 44 years ago today, aged 46 years, 177 days. James Garfield, murdered more than 80 years before Kennedy, didn't quite make it to 50, living 49 years and 304 days before his untimely death. The other assassinated presidents, Lincoln and McKinley, weren't old men when the died, either: 56 years, 62 days and 58 years, 228 days respectively.

Besides being the most recent assassination victim among the presidents, Kennedy was the only one shot at a distance, with a rifle. The killers of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley all got close enough to use handguns. Kennedy is also the only Democrat to be assassinated.

As the most recent assassination, still in living memory, Kennedy's death still seems to generate the most interest. For example, a Google search for "Kennedy Assassination" (with quotes) done ahead of this posting got about 730,000 results. "Lincoln Assassination" turns up 168,000; "McKinley Assassination" gets 19,100 results; and "Garfield Assassination" finds only 12,800.

Today was also the day that Lyndon Johnson became the 36th President of the United States, famously taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, the only time a president has taken the oath in Texas, or for that matter west of the Mississippi.

Writing in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998, when the Boeing 707 that was Air Force One that day was put on display at the US Air Force Museum near Dayton, Mark Curnutte wrote: "Malcolm Kilduff... was deputy press secretary and worked for press secretary Pierre Salinger under President Kennedy. Mr. Kilduff rode in the third car of the motorcade in Dallas that day, two cars behind the president when he was shot. Back on the plane at Love Field about an hour after the shooting, Mr. Kilduff made preparations for Mr. Johnson's swearing in.

" 'We had no sound cameras, so I found a Dictaphone and tested the belt,' said Mr. Kilduff, who held a microphone between Mr. Johnson and federal District Judge Sarah Hughes.

" 'President Johnson didn't want to take off before being sworn in, and if you look at pictures, you can see the scowl on his face,' Mr. Kilduff said. 'He was upset about JFK, but he also didn't like Judge Hughes. He had opposed her appointment to the bench. I'm sure he was thinking, "Of all the people to swear me in..." '

... [Air Force Col. James] Swindal was aboard the plane listening to the Secret Service radio when the president was shot. 'My first reaction was to get the plane ready in a hurry to get back to Walter Reed (Hospital in Washington),' he said. 'We hoped it was a wound. When we heard he had died, we wanted to make sure nothing else went wrong. I got off the plane and saluted the casket when it arrived.'

"[Air Force Master Sgt. John] Hames was among the crew members who removed seats and a wall from a rear section of the plane, so President Kennedy's casket would not have to go in the cargo hold..."

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